Wednesday, March 07, 2007

On the proper use of 'intellegence'

I’ve spent more time on news in the aftermath of the Libby trial than I have for some time. In plowing through the blizzard I found this gem from former Naval Intelligence officer J. E. Dyer:

The long, strategically unvarying years of the Cold War left an erroneous connection in our collective consciousness, of “intelligence” with the formation of national strategy. But intelligence can only serve, not direct, the elements that go into strategic decisions. Which nations are bad, which actions are bad, which actions constitute threats, what distinguishes a casus belli from a mere irritant — these factors are not determined by intelligence. Political will must identify them first, and decide what response we will take. Then, and only then, can intelligence perform its function. It was not “intelligence,” at the inception of the Cold War, that drove US policy — it was publicly available information and political will.

The current administration’s real tactical error, in my view, was placing too much emphasis on re-proving individual intelligence data points that the CIA decided to disqualify. Proof of Saddam’s long-standing connection with Al Qaeda — not an operational role in 9/11, but a long relationship between his intelligence service and AQ — did not hang on the “meeting in Prague” data point, for example. Nor did the long-term assessment of Saddam’s WMD program, by all the world’s major intelligence agencies, stand or fall on the “Niger” report.

…And the people are left confused and unrequited. It’s interesting to note that if an intel analyst dropping in from Mars judged solely by what we have found in Iraq since the invasion, with no prior information from the 1980s or 1990s, he would assess that Saddam indeed had a WMD program at the time he was regime-changed. Yet the focus on single data points and “intelligence failure” rumbles on. This focus is surreal. The Bush strategy represented a shift of political will in a threat environment on which intelligence had not changed — it was not about “intelligence” at all.

Mr. Dyer is amplifying a point in an article by Gabriel Schoenfeld of Commentary magazine, which I might comment on myself later.

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